Woman drives grandad to hospital 'strapped to plank of wood' as no ambulances were available

Melvyn Ryan, 89, was found lying on the floor at his home in Cwmbran in the early hours of Friday morning (December 9). Credit: Media Wales

A woman was forced to drive her injured grandfather to hospital in the back of a van strapped to a plank of wood, after she was told no ambulances were available to help.

Nicole Lea found her grandad, 89-year-old Melvyn Ryan, lying on the floor after a fall at his home in Cwmbran.

Ms Lea, who has been Melvyn's carer his wife died in 2020, was alerted to his fall by a call from his emergency lifeline button.

When she arrived, she said discovered he'd also suffered a broken shoulder and was bleeding from a cut to his head. After calling 999 for an ambulance, she was told none were available and that no one would be coming to help.

Nicole Lea, 27, was told by hospital staff "had we followed the advice we'd been given over the phone, he could've died." Credit: Media Wales

The call handler reportedly told Nicole to instead ring an out-of-hours GP and book a taxi to transport the pensioner to hospital, before hanging up in order to 'answer other calls'.

It comes as calls to Wales' ambulance service were so high at the weekend, it was forced to announce it could not keep up with demand, declaring a business continuity incident.

"I couldn't really believe what I was being told," said the 27-year-old firefighter.

"I was expecting a long wait for paramedics but never thought I'd literally be told, 'We have nothing to send, you'll have to find alternative transport'. I was left with grandad on the floor in agony and me wondering how I was going to save his life."I ended up, with my partner and mum's help, getting him onto a plank of wood and into the back of the van we bought to transport our dogs. To make matters worse, when we did get him to hospital the staff there told me that had we followed the advice we'd been given over the phone, he could've died."They told us that had we sat him up in a taxi the break in his hip would've likely ruptured an artery and been catastrophic for him." She added that she felt saddened and disappointed by what had happened.

"I knew the NHS was in trouble and wait times were long," said Nicole, "I also knew that it's understaffed and its workers are underpaid."But what I didn't know when I called 999 was that they'd just turn around and say they weren't sending help. Neither did I know they'd hang up on me, expecting me to figure out how to get him to safety.

Nicole Lea has been Melvyn's principal carer since he lost his wife Maureen to Covid in 2020. Credit: Media Wales

"It's only because of teamwork, brainstorming and quick thinking that the three of us managed to get grandad - an WWII army veteran who once fought for his country - to the Grange University Hospital (in nearby Llanfrechfa) within a couple of hours."

Nicole's partner, Elliot Hill, added, "Once we got to the hospital though everyone was great - couldn't have done more for Melvyn. They rushed to my van and got him straight inside on a trolley."He was also X-rayed within an hour or so. So our complaint is not with frontline staff at all, it's with the management."

Lee Brooks, Executive Director of Operations at the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: "We are sorry to hear about Mr Ryan’s experience, it is certainly below the level of service that we aim to offer. We appreciate why this would be upsetting for both Mr Ryan and his family, as it is for us and our people as well.

"The pressures facing the broader NHS have been well documented in the media, including how those pressures are impacting our ambulance services. These have continued to grow in recent weeks and last night we declared a business continuity incident and continue today to try and mitigate these pressures as best we can.

"Current levels of demand, handover delays at hospitals and staff sickness levels have limited our capacity to respond in a safe and timely manner. Our business continuity plans are drawn up to enable us to attend to the sickest patients first, while patients whose condition is less serious may sadly have to wait longer for our help, or be advised to make their own way to hospital."We invite Mr Ryan and his family to get in touch with our Putting Things Right team so that we can investigate the situation and better understand their experience."